This morning I picked up my nephew (who is about 12) and my niece (who is almost 8), and we went to Canticle Farm for two hours to help with the garlic harvest.
We arrived and trooped over to where the other workers were already busy. The beds are relatively long (for a smaller farm), maybe the length of three school buses. In each bed is three rows of garlic plants. Earlier in the year, the garlic scapes were cut off, so the bulbs would get more nutritional benefit. The scape, if left alone, will grow into a flower, and you kind of want to prevent that from happening, or it will start drawing on the bulb for sustenance. Nonetheless, we did find a few with flowers (which were pretty in the way that nettles’ flowers are pretty – mysterious and purple).
The work flow was pretty simple. The farmer, Mark, who has been the farmer there since it first opened, and another helper were going down all the rows with shovels and uprooting the plants gently. They would heave them up two or three at a time to help them loosen their grip on the soil. Then, workers would gently grab each garlic plant down by the bulb and tug them free of the ground. Garlic are interesting, in their original form. They look like squashed onions, especially with those long greens attached. And, like leeks and chives and young onions, the green tapers from vivid at the top to white towards the bulb. Some of the garlic that Canticle Farm grows is purple! So after the plant is uprooted, the worker would gently prise the clods of earth and clinging bits of soil off the bulb and shake as much out of the roots as possible. Then the plants are sorted into piles, depending on the variety. Another group of workers clips the roots off of the plant (so the less dirt attached to the roots, the easier it is to clip them off), and those plants are sorted and stacked for storage. I was told that last year the harvest lasted until January, and then there was no more (until now!)
Being smart, enthusiastic sorts, we helped uproot the plants, shake and wipe off the dirt, and put them into piles. Each step, while pretty easy, put a premium on being very gentle with the plants (a difficult concept for a kid to really take to heart when the blood is running high). Have you ever been picking out garlic at the grocery store, and one has a soft spot? That’s from bruising. Once the garlic dries out a bit, they bruise less easily, but during harvest they can bruise very easily. And you know that at the grocery store they are papery, but at harvest, they are as firm and moist as the inside layers of an onion.
After the first ten or so minutes, my niece, Emily, asked if we could stay and work the whole day. When I hesitated (thinking, “wait, really?”) she leaned in and asked, “Do you think they would mind?” Cute, right? I told her, and her slightly alarmed brother, that we were only staying for two hours. While working, we got to talk a lot about where groceries come from, and the sorts of foods available at the farm. I told them that when they go over to my parents’ house (their grandparents), the veggies they eat there all come from here. I also explained that the farm is supported by the community, so everyone helping a little bit makes the farm possible. Josh kept focused on the task at hand, and really got a lot of garlic harvested. Emily worked a little bit slower (but not by much), and she stuck closer to me to talk more. She wanted to know what kinds of “shifts” farmers work. So we talked about how farmers work all day until the work is done, and Mark, who was walking by, told her that with everybody’s help, all the garlic would be harvested by Wednesday. She had thought that we might be able to finish the harvest that morning, so it gave her an idea of how much work is really necessary.
I think the kids felt a sense of pride at how hard they were working, and how much they were helping out. And that they were trusted to help with tasks that adults were doing as well. We took a break not long before we left for the day, and sat in the barn for a few minutes to have some water and rest. We talked about how the water was the best water we’d ever tasted, after such hard work, and how great lunch would probably be. We also watched some chickens run around a little. After our break, we came back out to the field and finished one more row of garlic, and called it a morning.
I’m very proud to say that both the kids told me that they were available on weekends for more farmwork. Emily said, “You know, if you decide to just come over here, just call me and I’ll help.” Adorable. She also said, “If we get bored at home, we can just ask our mom or dad to drop us off here for awhile.” While I didn’t exactly agree that that would happen, realistically, I did tell them both that I would let them know the next time I planned on coming, and they could come too. I dropped them off at home, still hearing them talk about how cool it was, and how proud everyone probably was of them (which is totally true).
Feeling inspired when I got home, I made a summery pasta, with whole wheat penne, sliced squash (sauteed with some romano), tomato, and avocado. And boy was it the best lunch I ever tasted.